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Job Search Requirement For Unemployment Benefits Resumes In July

Patch logo Patch 6/10/2021 Charles Woodman
a sign on the side of the street © AP

OLYMPIA, WA — Starting early next month, anyone who applies for unemployment in Washington will need to give proof they've been searching for a job before their unemployment benefits are paid out.

Early in the pandemic as businesses were shuttered and the unemployment rate skyrocketed, Washington chose to waive its pre-existing job search requirement for unemployment applicants. It's now more than a year later and the state is planning on lifting the remaining COVID-19 requirements by the end of the month, so the Employment Security Department (ESD) says it's time for their business to return to usual as well.

"With the economy recovering, the job search requirement is going back into effect," the department said. "This means you will be required to look for work and document at least three approved job search activities each week in order to remain eligible for unemployment benefits."

To continue to receive benefits, applicants will need to begin searching for work the week of July 4-10, and report those activities to the ESD starting the week of July 11. As the ESD said, applicants will need to log at least three "job search activities" to keep benefits. Job search activities include any kind of contact with a potential employer, like submitting a job application or attending an interview. Attending virtual events or activities on the state's WorkSource website also counts as a job search activity.

According to the ESD's latest unemployment claims report, 386,317 unemployment claims were filed in Washington the week ending June 5. Of those, 286,146 were paid out. That's a strong decline from peak unemployment — at it's worst, the state paid out 538,635 claims the week ending May 9 — but well above the pre-pandemic unemployment claims, which hovered between 45,000 and 49,000 in the three weeks leading up to the lockdown.

Since March 2020, the ESD has paid out $18.8 billion in unemployment benefits to more than one million Washingtonians.

Though the job search requirements are coming, it's not clear that there will be jobs waiting for all the new applicants. As the Seattle Times first reported, the latest ESD jobs data shows Washington added just 11,200 jobs in April. The state was also found to have 182,300 fewer jobs in April than it had in February 2020.

Jacob Vigdor, an economist with the University of Washington, told the Seattle Times he suspects the Puget Sound region will see "no perceptible change in the labor shortage situation" as residents will still have to grapple with a tight market and high housing costs.

The ESD will be contacting unemployment recipients to warn them about the returning requirements. The agency has also promised to do more to address the state's lingering unemployment backlog. ESD Commissioner Cami Fleek was officially appointed to her position Wednesday by Gov. Jay Inslee. During her appointment, Fleek said the ESD was staffing up to better meet the state's needs.

"The main thing is right now we are super focused on recruiting, retaining and staffing up a much larger team to really bring that backlog down and serve those people that have been waiting," Fleek said.

Fleek has served as the acting ESD Commissioner since former Commissioner Suzi LeVine stepped aside to take a role in the Biden-Harris administration.

Related: WA ESD Commissioner LeVine Accepts Role In Biden Administration

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